Calgary

Sisters make '19 Days' NFB documentary about Calgary refugee settlement program

More than 20 years after arriving in Calgary from Somalia as refugees, Roda and Asha Siad are reliving the resettlement experience through the eyes of new arrivals to the city.

Documents 19-day resettlement program

'In order for us to create more inclusive and supportive environments for these new families, we have to know what they're going through,' says Calgary filmmaker Roda Siad. (Muhammed Muheisen/Canadian Press)

More than 20 years after arriving in Canada as refugees from Somalia, Roda and Asha Siad are reliving their resettlement experience through the eyes of newcomers.

With the support of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), the Calgary sisters have made a documentary about the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre in the northeast community of Bridgeland.

"It was really a kind of reflection for our parents' experience coming here, you know, trying to integrate and learn English," said Asha Siad, a freelance journalist.

The sisters say their personal experience made it easier for them to establish trust with the residents at the centre.

The film is called 19 Days and is named after what Roda Siad calls the "19-day crash course in Canadian society" that all newcomers to the centre must go through.

During the resettlement program, refugees are bombarded with information about education, health and housing in Canada — along with filling out piles of paperwork.

"The families were going through their own personal situations, some of them dealing with lost family members back home, others dealing with a sick child — all of that while having to retain all of this information," said Roda.

Somali-Canadian sisters Asha and Roda Siad wrote and directed a short documentary film about the first 19 days of resettlement in Calgary. (Submitted)

Fly on the wall

"When you take a shower, how does the water disappear?"

That is one of the questions a refugee asks a translator in the film — highlighting the difference between plumbing in Canada and a refugee camp. 

"I think it's important, as Canadians, that we're aware of what that resettlement process looks like. Not just how we receive refugees, but what happens after they arrive," said Roda, who works in community development in Calgary.

"To create more inclusive and supportive environments for these new families, we have to know what they're going through."

She and her sister wrote and directed the film without voiceovers or interviews.

"We wanted to tell these family's stories as they were, as we saw it unfolding at that moment. We wanted to take that observational approach because we didn't want to impose our own views and styles as filmmakers."

There is a free screening of the film on June 20 in the John Dutton Theatre at Calgary's Central Library.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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